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Not All Leaders Have Titles

Debbie Boone, CCS, CVPM, 2 Manage Vets Consulting, Gibsonville, North Carolina

June 2018|Peer Reviewed

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Not All Leaders Have Titles

Most people are familiar with the “V” formation of a flock of migrating geese where aerodynamic efficiency allows each goose to fly significantly farther as a group than if flying alone. With the encouragement of the rest of the flock, each goose becomes the leader at some point. In veterinary practices with strong leadership, different team members also will “take point” as the leader, whereas in a practice with weaker leadership the practice manager or owner will always be on point alone, taking all the buffeting, and ending each day stressed and exhausted and with little accomplished.

“It takes a leader to know a leader, grow a leader, and show a leader.”‒Author John Maxwell in Developing the Leaders Around You

Leaders attract potential leaders.1 The best teams always include people willing to step up and take responsibility. These same people will be attracted to quality leaders who see their potential and allow them to advance professionally; they will not stay where they are micromanaged and stifled.

Looking for Leaders

How can these potential leaders be identified?


They have a great attitude. They arrive at the practice with a smile, greet everyone with a Good morning, and jump in to help when they see a need. They understand that attitude, good or bad, is a choice, and they choose to be positive.


They are confident. They work hard to be good at their job and they project that self-assurance to their team members, who will gravitate toward them as their trainers. Clients will ask for them by name. They will be the veterinarian’s go-to person for assistance in challenging cases.


They own their mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, but many will not admit to them. Leaders admit their slipups and use them as learning and growth opportunities. They also forgive themselves and move forward rather than dwelling on their missteps. They are resilient.


They are composed and cool under fire. When the day gets hectic and clients seem to be universally in a bad mood, these team members are at their best. They go into a state of flow and work smoothly to accomplish all the necessary tasks and soothe ruffled feathers. They also help other team members become more efficient.


They accept feedback and correction because they have a larger goal than just getting through the day. They appreciate feedback that is given appropriately. In fact, if feedback is not offered, they likely seek it themselves and ask their manager, How is my performance? What can I do to improve?


They want more—more job responsibility, more autonomy, more time to be creative, and more input into the practice. 

Managers dream of finding these types of leaders but often make the mistake of not nurturing them early in their tenure. Any team member with a leadership mentality who is not encouraged to develop will feel frustrated and undervalued and likely will leave for other opportunities or stagnate and perform in lackluster fashion.

Practice Culture

  • Training and team development need to be part of the practice culture and are effective when made a priority and used strategically.

SOURCE: Yackel L. Benchmarks 2017: A Study of Well-Managed Practices. Columbus, OH: WMPB; 2017:111.

Cultivate Leaders

Practice managers and owners should take an active role in training these team members toward their next career goal. For example, a veterinary nurse who has been identified as someone other team members are naturally defaulting to for guidance and direction should be developed as the next team manager with lessons in management, conflict resolution, and scheduling, and by sharing financial information pertaining to his or her department. Allow potential leaders to try things their way and if it works, support the change. 

They must also be given status and the power to perform their leadership duties. Practice owners commonly identify a leader and make them a manager, and then undercut every decision they make. If they do not perform to expectations, train them.

True leaders love a challenge, so give them one (eg, updating job descriptions, revising the practice’s standard protocols, updating the website). The challenges should be tough but have reachable goals.


A leader’s responsibility is to coach newly identified leaders. Share managements’ successes and failures, suggest books and articles to read, and always be available when they need help. Great leaders delegate, teach, trust, and look to the future.2 Mentoring benefits not only upcoming leaders but also the practice by allowing for smooth transitions. After all, leaders have their own goals, and whether they plan to rise higher in the practice or to leave, they can be confident they are leaving their position or the practice in capable hands.

1 Learn how to recognize a team member with leadership qualities and understand a current leader is responsible for mentoring and training that individual.

2 Develop future leaders to allow for smooth transitions within the practice when a team member is promoted or leaves.


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